The Peripatetic Reviewer
ON August 17, 1933, James Norman Hall, the traveling member of the Nordhoff and Hall team, set sail from Tahiti bound for Pitcairn Island on a two-master, a 90-ton schooner. The distance was 1200 miles, and to beguile the long, empty days on the Pacific he took with him three books: Sir John Barrow’s Mutiny and Piratical Seizure of H.M.S. Bounty, a copy of Wordsworth’s poems, and — chosen at random — Volume XVIII of his new set of the Encyclopœdia Britannica. On that voyage Jim Hall was destined to be shipwrecked, cast away on Timoe, and most slowly rescued. Through it all he never lost grip of his precious volume of the Encyclopædia, and on his return to Tahiti he had completed his “968-page voyage across the MED to MUM sea of human knowledge.”
Frequently on my travels I have felt the urge for more knowledge about the country I was passing over or through. I felt it on my first train trip across the continent, when the vast geological differences were so striking. I felt it when I motored from Salt Lake City to Provo, a landscape so clearly marked by the glaciers, again when I took my first ride in a vista-dome to Aspen; I feel it recurrently when I fly over the Painted Desert. The interpretation of landscape and the long sweep of history are seldom available when one is in motion. history are seldom available when one is in motion.
We have Walter P. Paepcke, his brilliant editor Herbert Bayer, a master designer of our time, and Container Corporation of America to thank for having at last made such information, such I shall be glad to panoramas, available in World lishers the letters Geo-Graphic Atlas, surely one ers who are of the most edifying and beautilike additional ful books ever printed in this World Geo-Graphic country. Weeks, Editor,
I shall be glad to forward to the publishers the letters from Atlantic readers who are interested and would like additional information about the World Geo-Graphic Atlas. — Edward Weeks, Editor, The Atlantic Monthly, 8 Arlington Street, Boston 16, Mass.
It originated in Chicago. A generation ago Walter Paepcke’s father had an atlas done for the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company, which he was then directing. In 1936 Container Corporation, which is fundamentally interested in design, was discussing the possibility of publishing a series of road maps, and Walter Paepcke, remembering his father’s example, broadened the suggestion into an atlas. The world has changed radically since 1936; and when, at the end of the Second World War, Mr. Paepcke heard the imaginative ideas Herbert Bayer had for a book which would be “a composite of man’s environment,” it was agreed that, the time had come for a third trial. The third time never fails, and this atlas—which was four and a half years in preparation —this compendium of colored maps, diagrams, graphic aids, illustrations, and explicit text, is in a class by itself.
Most atlases I have worked with are fouled up with too many black lines; even when the maps are excellent individually, they are fatiguing in succession, followed by statistics in a type so fine it paralyzes the eyeball. The genius of Mr. Bayer shows in the way he has aerated this new book, in his use of white space and comfortable margins, in his insistence on type which is clear even when fine, and in the pertinent selection of information he brings to each page. For instance, here is a double-page spread showing the Climates of the Earth. The tinted zones help you to draw your own conclusions as to why certain people behave in certain ways; in addition there is a brief statement of what climate depends upon; tables of the highest and lowest recorded temperatures and, in a single paragraph, the signs indicating that the North Atlantic region is growing warmer. One of the four maps on page 65 shows the Migration Routes on this continent which the Asiatic primitives took after crossing Bering Strait; this page in turn is linked to the ethnographic map on page 168 giving the names and locations of the various tribes when the Indian population had reached a million at the time of Columbus. There are maps of the forty-eight states (these by Rand McNally, also of Chicago), and on facing pages forward to the pub- occupational maps, symbols, Atlantic read- illustrations, and eight to ten and would paragraphs of text which information about the brings out the character of Atlas. — Edward each region in terse and telling Atlantic Monthly, words. I thought I was pretty Boston 16, Mass. familiar with Maine, Massachusetts, and New Jersey — the three I turned to first—but the more fool I!
The major maps of the foreign countries are the work of an Italian cartographic institute, and the de Agostini Brothers are craftsmen whose use of color for emphasis surpasses anything else I have seen. Here again the insertion of the white page with its graphic aids to swift understanding provides just the right amount of information and relief. The text and maps dealing with the countries now behind the iron curtain I found especially fascinating in their elucidation.
World Geo-Graphic Atlas was printed in an edition of 30,000 copies at an out-of-pocket cost in excess of $400,000. Copies were sold at a discount to employees of Container Corporation; there has been a distribution to libraries and educational institutions, to customers and friends, and a limited number are being released to the public at $25 a volume. But the question of a second printing is sure to arise in the fairly near future. I believe there are a number of Atlantic readers who would be interested in knowing more about this book and, once they have seen it, in obtaining a copy if one could be secured. To my way of thinking, it is the most concise, far-ranging, and colorful atlas I have ever seen. Not a book to travel with, for of necessity it is a book of size; rather it is a book which opens the mind and informs you before you travel.
Good as gold
Eudora Welty began winning honors for herself, and incidentally for the Atlantic, with her short stories, the first of which we published in 1941. A Mississippian, she writes of the Delta South and of the Negro and the white with an unsegregated heart. In her novel, Delta Wedding, she wrote of “kin folk,” of a boisterous, improvident family in a ramshackle old mansion so real you felt you had been there. Now, in The Ponder Heart, (Harcourt, Brace, $3.00), Miss Welty has disclosed even more skillfully and tenderly the vagaries, the loyalty, and the experience of a fading gentility.
There was nothing fading about Grandpa Ponder, who was rich as Croesus, lived in the big place on the outskirts of Clay, and dominated everyone who came within his range. By the time this story opens he had subdued and buried his wife and driven off every member of the immediate family save two. Grandpa was of the old school and “wanted people to measure up”; but that was more than he could hope for in the case of his only remaining son, Daniel, big, handsome, and balmy, who never did a lick of work, had a passion for giving things away, and who, after he was forty, began to pursue the fairer sex with his impetuous generosity. The wonder was he didn’t give away Grandpa. Grandpa’s ally and comforter is Edna Earle, a spinster with spunk and his granddaughter. Edna Earle presides over “The Beulah,” a Southern boardinghouse to stop the clock; it had once been part of the family estate and had been “given” to her by Uncle Daniel.
This is Edna Earle’s story and she tells it in a rhythmical Southern monologue, confiding, defending, condemning, the honeysuckle flavoring of her words so beautifully at odds with her native shrewdness. Through Edna Earle’s eyes we see the sleepy little town of Clay and the value of everyone who counts. We see Miss Teacake Magee who sings in the Baptist choir — indeed, who sings at every function, including her marriage to Uncle Daniel. We see Ovid Springer, the traveling salesman, for whom Edna Earle had more than a little affection; Judge Tip Clanahan, the family lawyer, and Bonnie Dee Peacock, the yellow Huffy doll from Polk, Uncle Daniel’s second wife who ran him off the place. We see Grandpa and Narciss, who cooks for him, crazily drives the Studebaker, and goes for the doctor when there is trouble.
This is an encompassing, heartfelt story, absurd, true, and pathetic by turns, memorably vivid in the big scenes in the courthouse and at the funeral, and informed from first to last with an intimacy that makes it live.
William Sansom, one of the most gifted practitioners of the short story in England, has produced a remarkable sequence of travel narratives in his new book, The Passionate North (Harcourt, Brace, $3.50). Each of these is a foray into the North —the polar lands where the Lapps live, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and the uplands and islands of Scotland. The author is acutely observant as he writes about the snowy scenery, the picturesque ports, the exciting cold and the warmth, amorous and alcoholic, which the natives engender against it. His capacity for vivid detail and turn of phrase is uncommon — there is savoring and choice of language throughout, and the finest of the stories, “To Greenland, To Greenland . . .,” “A World of Glass,” “A Wedding,” “The Girl on the Bus,” are written with deep human understanding. The art in this book is constantly surprising: we find ourselves in strange and attractive places, and while we are looking at the sights are caught up in an unexpected dramatic situation.
Not many authors can write a light, sardonic, irreverent novel without at the end beginning to josh their own story. Mary Manning, playwright and novelist with a zany sense of humor, has avoided this pitfall in her new book, Lovely People (Houghton Mifflin, $3.00). She centers her story on a rich old Cambridge eccentric, and the question is, Can he protect himself from his avaricious next of kin — nephews and nieces in this case — who are out for all they can get? I wager no reader will foresee the denouement or question the stratagem of law on which it depends. This is fun.